Lostprophets Find Inspiration in the '80s

The Welsh hard-rock band cites Duran Duran, the Cure, and Depeche Mode as formative influences

Lostprophets vocalist Ian Watkins was just out of his teens in 2000 when his band recorded its debut CD, The Fake Sound of Progress. The indie release went on to sell 140,000 copies in the U.K. alone and earned the group best new British band honours from influential metal mag Kerrang!. Since then the youthful sextet has hooked up with heavyweight American management company Q Prime Inc. and scored distribution through Sony Music, which recently issued its sophomore disc, Start Something.

As Watkins explains from Dekalb, Illinois--where Lostprophets are performing with Hoobastank and Ima Robot on the MTV Campus Invasion Tour--the group's career has snowballed since it formed in '97 in the small town of Pontypridd, Wales. "We were just playin' a lotta shows in England and getting a really good buzz," he says, "because a lot of kids came out to our shows. So we ended up signing with an indie label, quickly recorded and put out our first album, and just toured on the back of that in a van."

Lostprophets are still making the road their home; it'll lead them to Richard's on Richards on Tuesday (May 4), with guests Head Automatica (featuring Dan the Automator and former members of Glassjaw). Judging by the collage of candid snapshots in the Start Something CD booklet, Watkins and his mates know how to enjoy themselves on tour. There are photos of them skateboarding and goofing off all over the world, including one of guitarist Mike Lewis posing beside Don Johnson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Although he's not a Miami Vice devotee himself, Watkins does point out that his group is hugely indebted to the music of the '80s. "We all grew up as fans of Duran Duran, the Cure, Depeche Mode," he says. "So we take influence from their melodies and stuff, but then we combine it with hard-rock guitars to get somethin' a bit cooler."

Start Something was recorded in L.A. over four months last year with producer-mixer Eric Valentine, noted for his work with Queens of the Stone Age, Smash Mouth, and Good Charlotte. A couple of the Good C members actually dropped by the studio and lent backup vocals to the anthemic single "Last Train Home". Lostprophets also got a helping hand from Justin Timberlake, though not in a musical way. He's the hooded, anonymous figure pictured on the CD's cover, standing on a barren overpass in the midst of L.A.'s concrete jungle. "Our bassist knows him," Watkins explains. "It's funny, because we tell people [that it's Justin Timberlake] and nobody believes us. They go, 'Oh... yeah.' But I don't really care whether people believe it or not."

Watkins doesn't seem fazed by much these days. He certainly doesn't hesitate when asked what he thinks of the latest album by his management's top client, Metallica. "I'm just like everybody else," he says. "I didn't like the sound. I love big-sounding records; I love The Black Album." While not a fan of Bob Rock's production on St. Anger, Watkins does claim that he likes the songs themselves, which is good, since he'll be hearing them night after night when Lostprophets open for the Bay Area ear busters on tour this summer. So how does he think the typical Metallica fan will react to his own group's brand of adventurous metal, which smartly balances melody and thrash? "I have no idea," he replies flatly. "I think it's just one of those things you have to do anyway. It's like, you can't turn it down. Whether it's gonna be good or bad, it's just an experience, you know."